Report: Children of low-income families have less hobby opportunities and experience more bullying and stress

Negative experiences due to poverty, such as anxiety, inferiority and stress are more prevalent among children of families with limited means compared with others. These findings are part of the “Children’s Voice 2020 – Impact of families’ financial situation on the daily lives, leisure time and well-being of children” report, published in October by Save the Children Finland. The extensive survey focused on the experiences of children and youths between the ages 13–17 regarding everyday life, studies, leisure time, hobbies and mental well-being. More than 3,100 children and young people responded to the survey.

In Finland, more than 110,000 children live in low-income families. In the Children’s Voice survey, up to 80% of children of families with limited means reported having experienced stress due to their family’s poor financial situation. Anxiety, guilt and shame were also much more prevalent among them. Other stress factors that the children experienced, in addition to financial worries, included long-term illness of a family member and issues with mental health or substance abuse. According to the report, 52% of low-income children were fairly or very worried about the future.

“Children of families with limited means told about their families’ debt burden and difficulties their parents had with paying bills. Many children knew that their parents had been forced to resort to food aid or to borrow money in order to cover the family’s expenses. Some children had given money for the family’s expenses from their own savings, study grant or income”, says Aino Sarkia, Child Poverty Advisor for Save the Children Finland.

Based on the responses, issues with income also impact the children’s self-esteem. More than half of children of low-income families felt that they were different or less valuable than others. Approximately 40% reported having been bullied or discriminated against due to their family’s financial situation.

“We are seeing evidence of children of low-income families experiencing more anxiety, worry, distress and inferiority. There is a risk that the coronavirus pandemic will add to these experiences and further exacerbate inequality in Finland”, says Sarkia.

Save the Children Finland wishes to remind that our society must ensure that services such as school health care and mental health services are accessible and have sufficient resources. In addition, everyone who works with children must interfere in all inappropriate behaviour and bullying, and the safety of school and hobby environments, youth clubs and other leisure time environments must be guaranteed. 

Family background affects hobby opportunities – encouragement and support are important

Family background also has a clear impact on children’s hobby opportunities. The report shows that 51% of children of families with limited means felt that their hobby opportunities were poor or fairly poor, whereas the corresponding figure among all respondents was 14%.

“Today, hobbies are often paid leisure time activities and not all families have the financial means to pay for hobbies. Hobbies are an important part of the social lives, growth and development of children. It is a source of joy they themselves choose”, says Riitta Kauppinen, Head of Civic Activity and Advocacy for Save the Children Finland.

One in four children of low-income families reported feeling that they were not gifted or skilled enough to participate in their desired hobby or pastime. One in three felt that meaningful hobbies or pastimes were too expensive.

“These are tragic figures and help is needed. Finland has to secure sufficient livelihood and social security for families and work towards this goal in the long term. We must ensure that every child has equal hobby opportunities and that every child receives support and encouragement regardless of their family background”, says Kauppinen.

Save the Children Finland supports children who live in the most difficult circumstances. In Finland, the coronavirus crisis has increased inequality of children and aggravated the risk of exclusion. Our work reaches up to 45,000 children in Finland annually. We support the hobby opportunities and secondary studies of children of families with limited means with our Eväitä elämälle aid programme. The total value of grocery store gift cards that we have already distributed to families facing financial hardship during the coronavirus crisis exceeds EUR 500,000.

Children’s voices regarding families’ financial hardship:

“The salary is simply not sufficient to live on. That is why the bills keep falling due and the amount of debt keeps increasing.”

“Money is always tight, upper secondary school books are expensive. When we have to buy those, we might have to buy groceries on credit.”

“The salary is small, and I often get told to wait until next month or the next paycheck.”

“Money is always tight, we barely have enough to buy food.”

The “Children’s Voice 2020: Impact of families’ financial situation on the daily lives, leisure time and well-being of children” report was published on 19 October 2020 and it is part of the wider Children’s Voice 2020 survey data. The first part “Children’s views on the coronavirus spring” was published in May 2020. Children’s Voice is a survey that Save the Children Finland has conducted since 2001. The survey maps the thoughts of 13–17-year-olds on varying themes. This year, the survey was conducted online during 6–26 April 2020 and over 3,129 children from all over Finland responded. The number of respondents is remarkably high compared with previous surveys.